March 1, 2010

Understanding Youth, Society, And Crime: The Wire

If Snot Boogie Always Stole The Money, Why'd You Let Him Play?
The Wire (, created by former Baltimore Sun crime reporter David Simon, is arguably the greatest TV show of all time. This isn't just me saying it because I happen to be a huge fan of it. It's been in the discussion for years by a lot of people who are much, much smarter than me. There's a class on it offered at Harvard University. President Obama lists it as one of his favorite shows to watch. My pot-head, tie-dye wearing, bike to school 16 year old TA raves about the symbolism, parallelism, and cinematography of it. It has a universal appeal to just about anyone. It's most prestigious award was a WGA award for best drama in 2008.

It's A Thin Line Between Heaven And Here...
So what's it about? EVERYTHING. The show is remarkable in that it operates on layers and levels that I've personally never seen before. My best description goes something like this: The Wire is about the way that drugs in Baltimore infect and influence life on every level, from the street corner 'hoppers' to the mayors and senators, and in a variety of settings. One of the most interesting things about the five seasons of The Wire is that in each season, creator/producer David Simon chooses a new focus to examine. In season 1, we get to see the role of technology in the pursuit of drug traffickers, season 2, the role of the docks and dockworkers, season 3, the influence of drug money on politics and business, season 4 (arguably the most important season, in my mind) the role of youth in the drug game, and season 5 examines the role that the media plays in this whole drug 'war'.
The plot is excellent, never predictable (, and the show is fantastically acted. The strength of Simon's drama, however, comes from his characters. This is true of his other works too, Generation Kill had some fantastic characters (based off of real people, but excellently presented nonetheless). The Wire features an amazing assortment of characters, a few of my favorites:
  • Omar - Frequently quotable stick-up artist who makes a living knocking of drug dealers' safe houses and stashes. Also, a gay black man, which makes him an outcast in just about every way in the black community of Baltimore.
  • Jimmy McNulty - The ultimate good guy who doesn't wear white. McNulty sleeps around, drinks excessively, lies, manipulates, the whole she-bang. But, McNulty is "natural po-lice" and is ultimately the one responsible for the whole series.
  • Stringer Bell - One of the heads of the Barksdale drug empire, Stringer is refined, well-kept, and determined to treat drugs as a business. A highlight moments feature Stringer lecturing two of the workers at one of his fronts about the difference between an elastic and inelastic product or consulting his professor about economic strategy that he then puts to use in the drug game.
  • Bubbles - Transient drug addict who works as a CI for the BPD. Bubbles has one of the few happy endings in the series, but also goes through probably the worst torments, too. Brilliantly portrayed by Andre Royo, based on a real person that Simon met while working at the Sun.
And All The Pieces Matter...
So why am I talking about The Wire on a football coaching blog? One, it's that good. It really is. Two, I think that watching the fourth season is a great exercise in reminding us as coaches how important we really are. Our wins and losses and various battles we fight are important, no doubt, but the most important thing we can do is keep kids from turning to other things. Season four shows us what happens to kids in bad situations who don't get the important, positive, nurturing and supportive MALE leadership necessary in their lives. It shows us what happens when kids are given options in what they should be doing with their lives. If you can watch season four and not feel a little more motivated to be there for your boys a little more, to provide that much more of a role model, to sacrifice just a few more moments to make sure that they're taken care of, well, I'm at a loss for words. It's powerful, enthralling, and relevant.
Watching seasons 1-3 in order to be well informed while watching season 4 isn't crucial, but c'mon, it beats the hell out of basketball season :)

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